In 12 years, and coming up on 13 iterations, Gonerfest has firmly established itself as one of Memphis' signature live-music events. Initially created on a DIY whim, the festival has grown from an impromptu collection of bands crossing through Memphis on a particular weekend to a more than bona fide tourist attraction. According to a 2014 University of Memphis study, Gonerfest nets over a half of a million dollars each year for local businesses. Organizers and Goner Records big-wigs Eric Friedl, Zac Ives, and Madison Farmer spoke to the Flyer this week about Gonerfest 13 and beyond.
The Memphis Flyer: Why did you create Gonerfest?
Zac Ives: We did the first one in January 2005. We had just put out that first King Khan and BBQ Show album, and the King Louie One Man Band album, and Mark and Khan were going to do a tour. We called a few other bands, got Louie up too, and tried and make a big weekend of it. Everyone we called wanted to come up and play. We booked two nights at the Buccaneer. We had no idea if anyone would come in town to see it, but the shows were packed and completely wild. We moved to the Hi-Tone that September and made it an annual thing.
Did you have any idea that it would become a regular thing?
Eric Friedl: We had no intention of throwing a festival. "Gonerfest" was sort-of a joke name — but people really wanted to come to Memphis.
Zac Ives: We really wanted to bring bands and rock-and-roll fans here to Memphis. The idea was Memphis deserved to see these great bands from all over the place, and these folks deserved to see Memphis and all these great bands we had. I think it's probably exceeded our expectations. I think the international aspect of it has been surprising and a lot of fun.
What is the booking process like?
Zac Ives: We have to agree that a band is a good idea, then whoever makes the initial contact usually takes care of the coordination of that band. Madison helps with press, promotion, volunteers, and a lot of the coordination as well.
Eric Friedl: We all propose bands and ideas for the festival. We try to figure out a budget in our heads — which bands we can afford, what kinds of different sounds or locales we should try to work in. I try to get the program guide done. Somehow that is the biggest hassle every year.
What bands are you excited about?
Madison Farmer: I can't wait to see Fred & Toody. Total heroes of mine.
Eric Friedl: I'm really excited to have Tom Lax from Siltbreeze DJ-ing Saturday night. He's sort of an underground legend, and the fact that he digs the festival makes me really happy. Tom Scharpling, too, who does The Best Show podcast. We're so proud these people want to come to hang out in Memphis. Every year I'm surprised by some band that just blows my head off. That's really what I'm looking forward to.
Do you think you'll keep doing it?
Zac Ives: I don't see any reason to stop. It's a rock-and-roll reunion in Memphis.
Madison Farmer: I'm down as long as the guys are! Even if it turns into a backyard cookout with a couple bands, I'm in for life.
Eric Friedl: I don't know what Gonerfest looks like when I'm 90, but for now, there's no stoppin' us!